Against the New Orleans Saints, you would have thought Orlando Pace and Anthony Munoz were playing tackle for the Minnesota Vikings. But on Sunday in Pittsburgh, the Steelers reminded everyone that the revamped O-line still has a ways to go.
With Sam Bradford out of the lineup with a knee injury, the Vikings needed to protect Case Keenum in order to succes. After all, Keenum had a 37.0 quarterback rating when under pressure last year. But when given time to throw, he can occasionally move the sticks.
The Vikings’ offensive line did not give Keenum that opportunity. Keenum had 46% of his dropbacks come under pressure, according to Pro Football Focus.
Minnesota’s No. 2 QB, who signed this offseason after starting 16 games over the last three years for Houston and St. Louis/Los Angeles, was consistently under pressure throughout the 26-9 loss. He was sacked two times for 21 yards, but rarely had the opportunity to find receivers down field.
Pittsburgh’s defenders, namely Cameron Heyward, Ryan Shazier and Bud Dupree, found themselves in Minnesota’s backfield throughout the day, including in key situations.
Down 14-0 early, the Vikings marched into Pittsburgh territory, finding themselves at the 24-yard line after an explosive pass play from Keenum to Adam Thielen. Three plays later, Kai Forbath was on for a field goal after the Steelers hurried Keenum into three poor throws.
The Steelers continued to get pressure on the Vikings’ quarterback even after losing edge rusher TJ Watt to injury in the first half. Bud Dupree had a notable sack when he flew around Mike Remmers to lay a hit on Keenum. Both Remmers and left tackle Riley Reiff finished with four hurries allowed, per PFF.
Pittsburgh not only brings far more talent to the table than New Orleans, they are a major challenge strategically. The Steelers bring a 3-4 defense, which often ends up being 2-4-5. That allows them to send linebackers and defensive backs after the quarterback from all angles. The Vikings did not handle the confusion well.
While the Vikings finished with 20 carries for 91 yards rushing – a respectable total – they did not consistently run the ball against Pittsburgh. One 25-yard run from Dalvin Cook made the runnin game look much better than it was. Two plays were taken back by Nick Easton holding calls and another was blown up by Heyward in the backfield for a four-yard loss.
If the Vikings were going to have any shot against the Steelers, they were going to have to control the ball and use clock to keep Ben Roethlisberger off the field. Instead, the Steelers ended up with 34:22 possession time.
This week was a much better measuring stick for the Vikings’ offensive line than the Saints. Clearly the starting five up front are better than they were last year, but if they are going to give the offense a chance to maximize their abundance of skill players, the O-line will have to perform better than they did against Pittsburgh.